Pakistan ride on Afridi blitz
In 75 minutes of unbelievable power-hitting, Shahid Afridi swung his bat, the match and the series as Pakistan romped home to a comprehensive five-wicket win at the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur. Having restricted India to 249, thanks mainly to Naved-ul-Hasan's incisive opening spell, Pakistan rode on Afridi's 45-ball hundred, the second-fastest in one-day internationals, and made a fighting total look paltry.
In the searing afternoon heat of Kanpur, Afridi's carnage brought a downpour of sixes. The arc between midwicket and long-on received maximum attention as bowlers were left gasping, fielders hopeless and spectators expectant. Within three overs the total rocketed from nine to 55, the stunning part being that there was a maiden in between. Good-length balls outside off were swatted to the roof of the midwicket stand, anything full disappeared, anything short was pummelled and anything wide savaged. It couldn't be termed slogging, it wasn't calculated, and it certainly wasn't a fluke. Forces of nature are probably impossible to explain.
He plundered bowlers before they could settle in. Lakshmipathy Balaji's second over, and Anil Kumble's and Dinesh Mongia's first were pillaged for more than 20 runs each. His howitzered swat over midwicket off Zaheer Khan in the eighth over was his 200th six in one-dayers, and he blasted his way to a fifty off 20 balls. Salman Butt was reduced to a blur at the other end and bowlers' line and length were rendered redundant. Afridi charged to his hundred in 45 balls, equalling Brian Lara's record for the second-fastest hundred. If his 102 at Nairobi in 1997 - still the fastest in ODIs - had introduced him to the world, his 102 today just reaffirmed that he remains one of the most destructive elements in the cricket world.
Ironically, he was out while attempting his first defensive stroke, as the ball ricocheted off his boot onto the stumps, but by then he had all but ensured that Pakistan took an unassailable lead in the series. While he was at the crease, Pakistan were rattling along at 9.14 runs an over and Shoaib Malik and the rest were left with the smoothest of cruises to complete. Mohammad Kaif pulled off a sensational catch to dismiss Yousuf Youhana, diving full length while running back from cover, but it was never going to influence the final outcome.
Earlier in the day Naved had played a big part in keeping India to below 250 as he left the top order in tatters in the initial stages. Sachin Tendulkar hardly got the width or length to break free in his first nine deliveries before he was undone by a beauty: unsure of whether to play forward or back he pushed at one that left him a shade and took the edge en route to Kamran Akmal behind the stumps. Virender Sehwag was confronted with a delivery of similar venom but opposite seam movement, and he played outside the line and stood transfixed as the ball crashed into his off stump.
And just when the situation demanded a cautious approach, Mahendra Singh Dhoni swished and swung, connected a few, fended a few and finally edged one to Younis Khan at second slip. India were 26 for 3 after seven overs with the bowlers on top, the pitch showing signs of variable bounce and all the batsmen struggling against controlled swing and cut. It was almost as if India were playing a Test abroad and, almost inevitably, Dravid entered his battling zone. Soon defence turned to single hunting, gliding and efficiently flicking in the gaps, and gradually it turned into controlled acceleration, with the odd boundary poached and ones turned into twos. When he finally fell, in the last over of the innings, he had taken India from a perilous position to a competitive total. In short, he had completed a job that he has mastered doing day after day in Test cricket over the last four years.
Kaif proved to be the perfect foil. Where the rest of the batsmen struggled against a combination of superb bowling and a semi-dodgy pitch, Kaif appeared completely at home on the ground where he learnt his cricket. Flicking effortlessly, finding the narrowest of gaps in the field, forever bubbling and zooming between the wickets, he went about rebuilding with minimum risk. With the field spread, both he and Dravid upped the rate at the 35-over mark and rattled off 59 runs in the 7.2 overs before Kaif fell.
At that stage, scoring at eight runs an over appeared to be a fantastic display. A few hours later, Afridi started rollicking along at more than 20 an over while producing an innings that even superlative adjectives would fail to describe.
Sachin Tendulkar c Akmal b Naved 1 (10 for 1)
Received a beauty that caught him on the crease and induced the edge
Virender Sehwag b Naved 1 (11 for 2)
Missed a good-length ball that cut in a shade
Mahendra Singh Dhoni c Younis b Naved 11 (26 for 3)
Attempted a cover-drive off the back foot. Younis Khan pouched the edge at second slip with a good low catch
Yuvraj Singh b Razzaq 18 (59 for 4)
Tried to drive one through the covers but the ball kept a bit low and resulted in him playing on
Mohammad Kaif c sub (Hafeez) b Razzaq 78 (194 for 5)
Pulled straight to the fielder at short midwicket
Rahul Dravid run out (Iftikhar/Akmal) 86 (248 for 6)
Escaped being run-out at one end when Naved dropped the ball as he was trying to direct it to the stumps, but was well short of his crease at the other as he attempted to run on the overthrow
Shahid Afridi b Harbhajan 102 (194 for 5)
Played a defensive stroke but the ball deflected off his boot onto the stumps
Salman Butt b Kumble 21 (135 for 2)
Missed a straight one while going for a sweep
Yousuf Youhana c Kaif b Kumble 24 (193 for 3)
Didn't time an inside-out stroke and Kaif pulled off a sensational diving catch while running back from cover
Shoaib Malik c Zaheer b Tendulkar 41 (216 for 4)
Holed out to long-off
Younis Khan b Sehwag 24 (248 for 5)
Was bowled while trying a hoick over midwicket
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is on the staff of Cricinfo.